Will Foster stay in starting lineup?

NASHVILLE-- Perhaps the season's biggest surprise to date for the Vanderbilt Commodores is the emergence in the starting lineup of freshman Shan Foster. As the team plays its last game before the Christmas break tonight against Appalachian State (8 p.m. CT, Comcast Sports Southeast TV, 104.5 FM), fans will be watching closely to see whether Foster remains among the starting five.

NASHVILLE-- Perhaps the season's biggest surprise to date for the Vanderbilt Commodores is the emergence in the starting lineup of freshman Shan Foster. After Foster's 15-point performance in a loss at Cincinnati, Coach Kevin Stallings benched starter Corey Smith in favor of the 6-6 forward from Kenner, La.

Foster has started the last two games for the Commodores, and contributed 13 points and four rebounds in the 78-55 win over TCU. As the team plays its last game before the Christmas break tonight against Appalachian State (8 p.m. CT, Comcast Sports Southeast TV, 104.5 FM), fans will be watching closely to see whether Foster remains among the starting five.

"Shan is an awfully talented young man," Stallings said earlier this week. "He just has the ability to make shots. He's got a good midrange game. He shoots it well from 3. He can offensive-rebound. He's just got a lot of things going on offensively."

In Monday's 86-54 win over Central Michigan, however, the freshman went 0-of-4 from the floor in 21 minutes and finished with a mere two points and two rebounds. Still, Stallings had high praise for Foster's defensive abilities.

"Our big surprise with Shan has been that defensively, he has been more than adequate," Stallings said. "I think our biggest question was whether he would be able to defend the way we needed him to defend. He's actually surpassed our expectations even more in that area."

Foster, the most highly-ranked player in Stallings' five-man recruiting class of last year, has the distinction of being the first athlete in any sport to commit to Vanderbilt after the controversial restructuring of the athletic department announced in Sept. 2003. Foster, Vandy fans will recall, turned down LSU, Georgetown and Southern Miss, as well as strong interest from Kansas and Mississippi State, to become a Commodore.

Stallings recalled Monday that in recruiting Foster it became necessary for Stallings and his staff to defuse the controversial re-organization announcement, as other schools began to spread disinformation in subsequent days and weeks about Vanderbilt's "de-emphasis" of athletics.

"We had to go to all of our recruits and explain what was going on. The three guys that stuck with us and signed in that early signing period-- Alex Gordon, Demarre Carroll and Shan-- were guys we had recruited heavily. We were able to maintain their commitments.

"But it required explanation. Fortunately they believed what we were telling them. They've seen since they've been here that there's really nothing from an athlete's perspective that is any different. It worked out fine, but we certainly had some tense moments, because people were trying to use it against us."

Thus far in 2003, all three of Stallings' early signees from 2003 (Foster, Carroll and Gordon) have made significant impact. Gordon is the team's fourth-leading scorer, averaging 7.7 points in 16 minutes per game. Carroll averages 3.7 points in 15 minutes of play, and is the team's second-leading rebounder (behind Dawid Przybyszewski) with 3.6 per game.

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With the Vanderbilt campus mostly cleared out for the semester break, Stallings said it becomes easier to keep his players focused-- until, that is, the final game before the team is dismissed for the holidays.

"I think it's easier [to keep the team focused] until you get to that last game-- the game before when they're trying to get ready to go home," Stallings said. "Then I think it gets to be more difficult.

"When they're finished with exams, up until that game before they leave, it's easier, because they don't have the burden of the academic responsibilities. But we always find that last game, right before they're getting ready to go home, quite distracting. They're looking forward to getting out and seeing their families."

Despite the deserted campus, Stallings said the players haven't had any trouble keeping themselves entertained.

"They end up getting used to it. It's a new experience for the freshmen obviously, but college athletes are quite creative. They make their own fun, and always end up being able to have a good time."

Last season's last game before the break was also against Appalachian State. The Commodores were sluggish, but emerged with a 63-48 victory and ran their season record to a perfect 9-0.

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